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Mar 2
Social Media Tour: Steve Rubel Chats About Healthcare Blogging
Well, the interview is now complete.  I had a wonderful time getting to know Steve during our interview.  He (and I) appreciated the fact that bloggers (Shahid, John, Courtney, Easton) contributed questions for the interview.

Following is a transcript of the interview (with some commentary by me thrown in.)  I'm happy to say that Steve has graciously allowed me to reprint this interview in a report my consulting firm, Envision Solutions, LLC, is developing on healthcare blogging.   The report is titled: The Emerging Healthcare Blogosphere: What Is It & Why Does It Matter?  It should be complete later this month.  

Now, on to the interview . . .
Social Media Tour: Healthcare Blogging Edition

1. Blogs have clearly had a huge impact on numerous industries, including technology (Microsoft, Macromedia) and food (McDonald's).  Do you think blogging has affected the healthcare industry in the same way?  If not, why? 

I don’t think that blogging has impacted the healthcare industry significantly yet.  However, I do think that we will see increased focus on the influence of healthcare blogs over the next months and years.

I will say that there are a lot of people blogging about healthcare – in general.  Health is a topic that flows through many posts.

However, I haven’t seen a huge amount of people blogging about healthcare exclusively – with the exception of individuals writing about their experiences with illness.  (I launched a blog when I was diagnosed with skin cancer late last year, but I’m sorry to say I haven’t been able to keep up with it as much as I’d like.)  

I think that more people will be blogging about healthcare exclusively as the blogosphere expands.  But right now, healthcare blogging is not as popular as some other areas.  

2. In your mind, what are the benefits of blogging for: 

•    Patients

For patients it’s about community, finding others out there just like you.  Knowledge sharing and advocacy [are other areas].  If people feel they want to highlight a cause of some kind, they can form a community.  However, I haven’t seen a lot of examples of this happening.  

•    Healthcare Providers

My brother is a physician and I’ve been trying to get him to blog!  He hasn’t bitten yet though.☺   

I think the main benefit for physicians is business.  Google is a great resource for patients trying to find out about physicians.  If you can get in the top Google listings, that’s great for your business.  

So in all, marketing is huge.  Knowledge sharing between physicians is another area where blogs could benefit doctors.    

•    Pharmaceutical Industry

There are a lot of risks inherent in blogging for the pharmaceutical industry, given the fact that they are so heavily regulated.  

However, there are also a lot of benefits. For example, pharmaceutical companies could foster genuine dialogue about issues.  Pharmaceutical companies [do a lot to] help to alleviate pain (both physical and emotional).  I think they could lead a dialogue or play host to a dialogue about [healthcare-related] topics.  

Pharmaceutical companies could also become aggregators of healthcare information.  They could host a blog that gathered information from blogs, news sources and other places that people could reference.  

•    Government

I’m going to answer that with one word:  Trust.  Building trust with constituents is a big deal.  For example, I think that blogs could help regulatory agencies like the FDA build a dialogue with people interested in issues the agency is dealing with.

3. Why do you think the US pharmaceutical industry has been so slow to embrace blogging?

I think that regulation has a lot to do with it.  The companies are nervous that if they talk about side effects, they will have problems.  It’s a scary thing for them.  I think we’ll need to see a few companies blogging successfully before others will get into the act. 

4.  Now I have a question from Shahid Shah, The Healthcare IT Guy.  He wants to know:  Can you think of other heavily regulated industries like pharma that are not as far behind on blogging?

I don’t know of any other companies in heavily regulated industries that are blogging.  What’s ironic though is that politicians are blogging and they regulate all of these industries!

5. My next question is from John Cass of Backbone Media.  He asks:  How would you help a pharma company build relevant content on a blog?

I think it depends on the situation, but – conceptually speaking – there are a few approaches one could take.  One would be to aggregate information about healthcare on a blog.  That’s one approach.  I have two questions though:  Can people provide feedback?  How do companies deal with comments? 

Companies could also host blogs written by patients.  For example, they could recruit five patients that have been helped by one of their therapies and they could blog.  However, I’d have to talk to some lawyers about the legal aspects of this.  (From Fard: Yes, HIPPA patient privacy laws could be a bear.) 

[Off the subject of blogging], podcasting could be another way to go.  There could be sponsored podcasts by patients that could be underwritten by a pharmaceutical company. 

6. Suw Charman wrote a great case study last year on a “Dark Blog” a European pharmaceutical company launched to improve internal communications, collaboration and productivity.  Given the results of this case study, do you think blogs could help improve patient care, policymaking and other healthcare-related activities in the same way?

[I think that this case study demonstrates that] blogs can be a tremendous knowledge-sharing tool.  However, you need to be prepared to deal with the possibility that information could go “over the wall.”  There needs to be a safety net in place to prevent [confidential information] from being released. 

7. Are there any healthcare bloggers you are aware of that have influenced the activities of pharmaceutical companies or other players in the healthcare field? 

Not that I am aware of, but I haven’t studied it that closely.

8. My next question is from Courtney, a student at Auburn University.  She writes: WOMMA’s web site gives the statistic that 85% of people polled believe word of mouth communication is credible compared to 70% who feel advertising and PR are. How would the added credibility of word of mouth marketing affect the healthcare industry and how it does business?

Those data points are consistent with the Edelman Trust Barometer, which recognized that the vast majority of people trust people like themselves.

What healthcare companies have to do is to try to facilitate trust.  Gather up a group of people and empower them to help build conversations around issues.  My major piece of advice is this:  be a facilitator not a communicator. 

Blogging is about matchmaking and social networking.  [What could be successful] is having something that’s a throwback to Uncle Merle – “This program was brought to you by Texaco.”  I’m not saying that you should abandon marketing, but you don’t push it so much. 

9. Easton Ellsworth, who writes the blog Business Blogwire, has the next question.  He asks:  In your mind, who are writing the top-notch blogs in healthcare?

Gosh, getting all these questions [from bloggers] almost makes me feel like Larry King!  I feel like saying:  Hello Easton!  [Fard: Say it!]  Okay, Hello Easton!  I have to be honest.  I don’t know.  I haven’t had a lot of experience with healthcare blogs.  This is something that I plan to learn a lot more about now that I’m at Edelman.   

[Steve asked me to list some of my favorite healthcare-related blogs. I listed four off the top of my head:  In the Pipeline (Derek Lowe), The Health Care Blog (Matthew Holt), Medpundit and Pharma Marketing Blog (John Mack).] 

10. Why do you think healthcare marketers should care about blogging?  

I think that healthcare marketers should care about all social media technologies: social tagging, podcasting, video blogging and [regular] blogging.  Consumers are going to these media sources for advice and counsel.  Healthcare marketers have to contend with this and figure out how to deal with it. 

11. Are healthcare marketers aware of social networking technologies or are they behind the curve?

I think that healthcare marketers are aware of these technologies, but they are trying to figure out how to act given all of the regulations faced by healthcare companies. 

6 Comments/Trackbacks

Thanks, Fard and Steve, for the insights. It will be interesting to come back to posts like this in a year or two and see whose voices have become the most popular in terms of healthcare blogging (or Web publishing). Good job on the interview, Fard!

I agree that healthcare marketers have to contend with deal with social tagging, podcasting, video blogging and [regular] blogging because consumers are going to these media sources for advice and counsel. I hope some of them read your interview, for it will educate them. I'd like to interview you at some point for my upcoming book titled "Life After the Press Release" about this subject.

» Imterview with Steve Rubel from On Social Marketing and Social Change
Steve Rubel is one of the better known and respected bloggers on public relations and social media. Two of Steve's recent posts include Centers of Gravity in the social media universe and It's Not About the Traffic! I am a [Read More]

While internal blogging may be wholly appropriate, I'm not so sure about Pharma blogs that target a consumer audience.

In training as a physician, one of the strongest messages that we get regards the necessity of patient education. Many will walk through out doors requesting a specific drug and many will leave with that exact prescription. It's often not the right choice for the circumstance, and sometimes no medication is required, but is dispensed anyway. It's a difficult job to persuade a patient that what they read on or aspartamewillkillyou is not exactly evidence-based medicine.

The credibility of opinion-based formats, like blogs, is questionable, but few will take to time to investigate who exactly the information is coming from.

It is my fear that Pharma blogs - being an unregulated entity much like any other health resource on the Internet - will only add to the amount of information that is available to confuse patients.


Thank you for visiting my blog and commenting on this interview. You make excellent points, however, there are a few that I disagree with.

First, I think that blogs (especially healthcare Weblogs) are very well thought out and much of the information can be trusted. I don't believe this of all healthcare blogs, but many are written by people who take their blogs seriously, cite their sources and provide accurate information. I just completed a review of healthcare blogs and found this to be the case in many instances (see elsewhere on this blog for more on the report).

In addition, I do agree that inappropriate prescribing is an issue in healthcare, but that there are many reasons a patient receives the medication they wish to have. It may have to do with defensive medicine for example. Of course, marketing plays a role, but it is not the only factor.

In addition, the pharmaceutical industry is one of the most highly regulated industries in the world. (Having been in many review committees at pharmaceutical companies, I can attest to that personally). They are required to abide to a number of regulations regarding their online activities. So, does that mean that they have an agenda in marketing their products? Of course. Does that mean that certain information is for-grounded? Of course. However, on the whole, pharma is required to ensure that information about side effects, efficacy and clinical trials is accurately presented. (It is another matter entirely about whether this happens all of the time, but there are many people out there, even at pharma companies, who try to ensure that information is presented accurately.)

What I think blogging could do is make pharma more transparent, given the somewhat unforgiving nature of the blogosphere. And, having an opportunity to participate in the conversation would also be good. Again, I cover a lot of these issues in my healthcare blogging report. You might find it useful, or not.

I hope you continue to comment on these issues in this forum because they are important and deserve debate.

Thanks again,


» Healthcare and Blogs Interview Series Part III: Robb Hecht from HealthCareVox
Over the past two weeks, I have been publishing a series of interviews with expert bloggers and communications experts about the impact of blogs on healthcare.  Following is the third and final interview in this series with Robb Hecht.  My... [Read More]

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